To riff (v) – to perform, deliver, or make use of a riff.
Riff (n) – an ostinato phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation.
You know those recipes that you go to when you can’t even manage an internet search for “Easy dinners” and your cookbooks seem to be judging you? Those dishes that you always seem to have most of the ingredients for, but even if you don’t, there are some easy and accessible substitutions that will bring you close to your target? These recipes exist within what I call the riffing range. Recipes within this range have some common characteristics:
- They are relatively simple (usually 5 main ingredients or fewer, not counting seasonings).
- They take 30 minutes or less
- They don’t require any specialized skills or equipment.
So basically an ideal situation for when you just can’t even.
Riffing Range Recipes:
- Pasta Puttanesca
- Burritos as discussed on the blog here
- Salad (obvious but one that must be mentioned as we are currently in the throws of summer produce season).
Pasta Puttanesca is one of these recipes because I always have some sort of noodle product and cheese, as well as garlic and a version of canned tomato (whole peeled, crushed, cubed and even puree will do). From there you just need an herb (parsley is traditional but basil holds its own), an olive (again, kalamata is traditional but green pimento stuffed, oil cured or even black olives are great). Capers provide a nice zing but are not 100% necessary and finally, anchovies or even sardines or tuna in a pinch. Hungry Ginger recipe here and a sardine version here. You could even go crazy if you have some eggplant on hand and ricotta salata and turn it into Pasta alla Norma.
During these strange times when going to the grocery store can feel perilous, it is comforting to have these types of recipes in your culinary tool belt and ready faster than it takes for Uber Eats to deliver a lukewarm burrito.
I encourage you to try riffing in the kitchen. It is a great way to practice with flavors and get comfortable cooking without a recipe. Best scenario, you will discover a new go-to recipe, worst scenario you will have used up some ingredients that may have been lingering in your pantry for too long anyway.